This article is part of our new series, CurrentsCheck to see how rapid advances in technology are transforming our lives.
With fewer flights and even fewer passengers, the coronavirus pandemic opened a wave of challenges for airlines. Some are out of business and others are nearly non-existent as global passenger volume hovers at around 50% in 2019.
With no passengers to fill them up, the airlines were shutting down their old planes faster than usual. According to Oliver Wyman’s 10-year aviation forecasts, more than 1,400 aircraft parked by 2020 could be inactive again, more than double the usual retirement for a year, according to the forecast. the 10-year aviation newspaper of the business consulting firm, Oliver Wyman. The result will be a more modern fleet, the report states.
In a purely glass observation, David Marty, head of Airbus’s digital solutions marketing division, noted that the remaining planes in the airline’s fleet were younger, more aircraft. more fuel efficient, with lower carbon dioxide emissions.
According to the manufacturers, new engine technology and lighter components and structures allow the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 to burn 20 to 25 percent less fuel than the planes they replace.
The other significant change is digital. Each new generation of aircraft can collect more data with sensors and circuits – like a giant Fitbit – tracking the health of the aircraft from nose to tail.
For example, on any given flight, an airline can calculate how much carbon it emits and which parts of the aircraft may need to be attentive on arrival.
As the share of modern aircraft in fleets increases, so too will the amount of available data. And airplanes are just one factor contributing to the growing flow of information.
“The world is clearly changing and planes are definitely providing more and more information,” said Vincent Capezzuto, chief technology officer at Aireon, an aircraft tracking and surveillance company. New broadcast tracking signals are specific to flights but can also contribute information useful to airport navigation and planning services to help manage air and airport traffic fly.
During a new use, Aireon was hired by the FAA to monitor all Boeing 737 Max flights to capture any anomalies for analysis. This was in response to Max’s landing almost two years after two fatal crashes. Max is back in service by the end of 2020. (Several planes have been landed again this month because of potential electrical problems.)
To show how fast the change is, Kevin Michaels, chief executive officer of AeroDynamic Advisory, an aerospace consulting firm, points out to the newest Airbus aircraft, the A350. It typically records 800 MB of data per flight. The Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger airliner, which began service in 2007, can supply only half of that.
“There’s a lot of data available and better algorithms,” Michaels said.
At Delta Air Lines, new technology has led the airline to create apps pilots use on tablets such as Flight Weather Viewer to avoid flying over turbulent areas. It was first launched in 2016 and has been updated over the years as new features become available.
The In-flight Family Communication app, starting in 2018, allows all employees working on a particular flight to communicate with each other, from ground staff to the crew. John Laughter, the airline’s chief operations officer, said one of the best uses of new data is to predict when parts will fail so maintenance can be proactively done. .
“I’ve been with Delta since 1993 and almost everything we do after that looks the opposite,” he says. “We’re going to have a failure and we’ll ask, ‘How do we fix it?'”
Today, Mr. Laughter said “data scientists are looking at data” so they can schedule what was previously a potentially disruptive and potentially disruptive fix.
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Malaysia’s AirAsia executives say preventing delays is critical as their business model relies on the plane flying no more than 25 minutes at the airport gate. Since 10 different entities all work together to operate the flight, anything that slows down one of them can cause a range of delays.
By applying artificial intelligence to the data it collects, AirAsia can also reduce fuel and public labor costs combined, says Javed Malik, the airline’s chief operating officer. “At the end of the year, that could save millions of dollars.”
However, many airlines still find it difficult to update large amounts of information.
“Airlines and planes are like oil rigs,” said Yann Cabaret, vice president of strategy, product and marketing at SITA, an aviation industry-owned technology nonprofit. in the ocean. “And their data is like crude oil. They can’t do much with it. “They need the people and the technology to refine that data so they can get value out of it.”
Not that the airlines have not embraced new technology in the past, they have.
For example, computer reservation systems became modern when they started in the 1960s. But six decades later, airlines are still trying to create a way of selling tickets and products that are different from the pizazz music that web savvy shoppers expect. The rapid rate of change can create a barrier.
“We are locked into legacy systems that our IT vendors have designed for specific applications,” said Frederic Sutter, the head of a data sharing platform called Skywise powered by Airbus. . “When you have to combine different data from different systems, the industry is not equipped to do the same.”
To solve that problem, in 2017, Airbus started selling customers access to Skywise’s cloud platform, where they could share with other airlines information about planes and suppliers. and their components.
One hundred and thirty airlines, including AirAsia, upload their unidentified data to the platform “so they can compare themselves to their entire fleet,” said Mr Sutter.
Even Airbus is the beneficiary. “The collected and shared data allows us to validate our designs and prepare them for the next generation of aircraft,” he said. If fleet reports show unforeseen problems, the company can initiate planning a design change if necessary.
Global companies such as Airbus, Google and IBM have found a potentially lucrative market selling technology services to airlines because carriers, some of which have been around for a century, stuck in what Vik Krishnan, a partner of McKinsey & Company that specializes in tourism, calls the “old-fashioned” system.
Newer airlines, like AirAsia, aren’t stuck by that history. It was only 5 years old when its current owner bought it in 2001. After adding a long-haul airline and acquiring several affiliated regional airlines, the company decided to consolidate other data. and create what Mr. Malik calls the “interconnected ecosystem.” “
The airline wants all of its information to be accessible under one roof and inter-departmental visibility for example, passenger biometric information – fingerprints or facial recognition – can be used for security and airport boarding as well as for purchasing products on AirAsia’s e-commerce platform. Using this technology can create privacy issues that governments may need to address.
“Those are separate, different technologies; payments and biometrics need to work seamlessly in the background for a customer to have a great experience, ”Mr. Malik said.
In 2018, AirAsia partnered with Google to become one of the first airlines to move its data to the cloud, and many other airlines followed suit. Delta and IBM announced an agreement earlier this year to move both client applications and internal applications to the public cloud while they work on strategies to handle increasingly large amounts of aircraft information. increase.
“Airlines have the ability to use data or process data or deploy artificial intelligence as they sift through,” said Dee Waddell, IBM Global CEO of Travel and Transportation. gather the information they need.
But as they move further into the digital age, airlines also learn that being part of big data is not without its downside, the burdens of managing it all in one number. surname.